Thinking outside the (eBay) search box
More than a million people sell on eBay regularly, and by some estimates, more than half a million people do it as their full-time job.
The prevailing wisdom is this:
- Sell a commodity
- Sell it cheap
- Do good enough customer service that you have high ratings
- Wait for your fair share of search traffic
So, a prospect goes to eBay, types in "Elmo" and sees all the listings. Common sense tells the prospect to find the cheapest one from an acceptably rated bidder. The end result is average stuff sold to average people for slightly below average prices. The long tail kicks in and there's a business! eBay does its share by putting a part of its profits to work in promotion and in affiliate programs and in ads on Google, etc.
You, loyal reader, can already guess what's coming: average stuff for average people is no way to make a living. In fact, the big eBay success stories, the ones that people talk about, are the Alan Greenspan paintings, the grilled cheese sandwich that looks like the Virgin Mary, or the woman who sold the Pokemon cards for a fortune, etc. In other words, buzzable stuff. Unique stuff. Remarkable stuff. Stuff that got sold despite the search box, not because of it.
That's all fine if you're running a circus sideshow, but what about the hundreds of thousands of people that just want to sell typical stuff and don't have great copywriting talent? They need a different strategy, one that gets them attention off eBay and builds an asset they can profit from.
7 years ago I helped a friend at Yahoo by writing a short book about the short-lived Yahoo auctions business. I argued that the asset sellers should build is permission. That the way to make a living as a seller on eBay is to have a list of people who want to get a weekly or monthly email from you outlining your latest and greatest auctions. And to do that, you need a specialty, you need to be real and you need to be trusted.
If I collected Fiestaware, for example, I'd look forward to an update from a trusted source on her (and everyone else's) Fiestaware auctions, sorted by desirability.
Instead of running a rolling garage sale, you need to become an expert. Someone who is seen as knowing what they're talking about, and someone who can reach out to possible buyers instead of waiting for them to find you.
I'm selling my treasured canoe on eBay. Without this blog, it's really unlikely that I'd get even a bid or two on it. Of course, if every eBay seller had a blog like mine, they'd be fine, because they could just post their auctions as I just did, and they'd get plenty of traffic. But building thousands of blog posts over nearly a decade is a lot of investment just to sell a canoe.
For the seller who doesn't have that asset, we've just launched SquidBids.
Here's the page I built about my canoe auction.
It doesn't work so well if you're doing what I'm doing, which is selling just one item. But imagine that someone decides to specialize in antique teaspoons or even bulldog puppies... the idea is to build a blog, a twitter following, a FaceBook social graph, and even a SquidBids page that:
- establishes your reputation
- earns you a following
- gives you a tool to notify people about new listings
The goal, to make a really long post short, is to create an environment where people will pay extra because it's you who's doing the selling. And that happens when you give your audience things. Give them information and access and insight. Point to auctions that aren't even yours... if it's good stuff.
This feels hard. It takes time. But it's far far easier and more profitable then wishing and hoping that someone stumbles onto you. If selling on eBay is actually your business, you need to start setting out the breadcrumbs that make you worth more than the next guy.
It always comes down to human nature. We'd rather buy from a friend.